The San Antonio Spurs reached the 60-game win mark over the weekend, beating Memphis by 20 points. This is now the fourth season that Gregg Popovich has led the Spurs to 60 wins. In NBA history, only Pat Riley and Phil Jackson have surpassed that mark coaching one team. Manu Ginobili returned for the Memphis game after sitting out the loss to the Thunder and he led the team with 26 points off of the bench, which matched Kawhi Leonard for the team-high.
Since Leonard and Tiago Splitter have joined the Spurs, San Antonio's dominance over Memphis has been impressive, and the Grizzlies are acutely aware of that. The Grizzlies may end up being San Antonio's first round oppenent, and while I believe that Dallas or Phoenix would be easier matchups, a first round matchup with any of these opponents should render the outcome of the series academic. San Antonio pounded Memphis while only needing nine minutes from Tony Parker and less than 20 minutes from Splitter and Danny Green.
San Antonio's bench was incredible in the win. The Spurs scored 47 points off of the bench, led by 26 from Ginobili, but scoring wasn't the only way the bench played a key role. Boris Diaw was +19 off of the bench, and his presence in the post against Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph was crucial. The Spurs held the Memphis low-block duo to a combined total of 14 points and 12 rebounds on 6-of-16 shooting. Randolph finished -26 and Gasol -20 in the game.
San Antonio's magic number for home court advantage through the playoffs is down to 2 after OKC's loss in Phoenix on Sunday. The Los Angeles Clippers are more likely to pass up the Thunder for the second seed than OKC is to pass the Spurs for the Western Conference first seed. With that said, it will be interesting to see how Popovich plays the final five games of the regular season with games against playoff contenders Houston, Dallas and Phoenix still on the schedule. Like Memphis on Sunday, Dallas and Phoenix could be first-round playoff opponents for San Antonio. Will Popovich play for the perfect matchup? Or will he rest players in games against potential foes?
None of that matters in tonight's contest against Minnesota. There's been no official announcement from the team, but I would expect most of the Spurs roster to be available to play, since San Antonio had an off day on Monday, and especially considering the low mileage that most of the starters were given in the win against Memphis. Minnesota is 38-38 on the season and 4-6 over its last 10 games. The T'Wolves are out of the playoff hunt in the West, but if the season ended today, their record would be good enough to give them a first-round matchup with Miami if the ‘Wolves could somehow be magically transported into the [L]Eastern Conference.
Minnesota enters the game coming off of a 100-92 loss at Orlando, and they rank third in points per game, eighth in rebounds per game, and fifth in total assists. Where Minnesota has continued to struggle is on the defensive side of the court. They give up 103.6 points per game, which is 26th in the league. Kevin Love didn't play in the loss to Orlando because of back spasms, but reports are that he is expected to be back in the lineup against San Antonio.
Love leads the ‘Wolves with 26 points, 12.6 rebounds and a PER of 27.4. Love's skills as an offensive player and a positional rebounder are well known, but his lack of true post defense is one of the reasons that Minnesota struggles to be any more than an average team on a nightly basis. Love and starting center Nikola Pekovic average less than one block a game, and Pekovic is not expected to play against San Antonio. Ronny Turiaf leads the team with 1.7 blocks per game, which is pretty much all you need to know about Minnesota's ability to intimidate teams that get into the lane.
That's a deficiency that can be disguised on a team that has perimeter defenders who can keep guards out of the lane, but that's not a luxury that Minnesota has. Ricky Rubio is quietly playing at a level close to as well as he has ever played, and has put together his most consistent season as an NBA player. Notwithstanding all of his abilities as a creator, he still lacks the ability to stay in front of elite point guards on defense. Tony Parker is out for the game with a sprained facet joint, but it still will be an issue for the Timberwolves if Patty Mills is given the freedom to create.
Minnesota is a dangerous team that can score as well as anyone in this league, but it is also inconsistent and their defense can be exposed against offensive teams that share the basketball and limit turnovers. San Antonio's offense epitomizes those principles and it should help to result in an easy win if Popovich uses his full roster.
Matchup to watch: Everything for Minnesota begins and ends with Kevin Love. If you can keep Love off of the offensive glass and close out on him when he stretches the floor offensively, the Timberwolves become an ordinary team. But when Love gets his game going on the glass and the perimeter it creates space for Rubio to penetrate and create. Boris Diaw seems the best equipped Spur to guard Love, so that becomes my matchup to watch in this game.
Key Bench Players
Key Bench Players
The perspective of T-wolves fans can be found here: Canis Hoopus
Game Prediction: Spurs by 10.
Line in Vegas: Overnight line N/A.
As always Tony must dominate Fisher, and NBA league pass is recommended for those who are willing to pony up the cash. Almost every Spurs game will be broadcast there, which is especially helpful for those of us who aren't in the San Antonio area. Please don't post links to illegal game feeds in the game thread. Links to illegal feeds are not permitted on SBNation, but you can probably find them out there on the internets if you're resourceful and desperate.
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